Performing a fitness assessment as a personal trainer is a critical first step when starting out with a new client. This involves a series of exercises and assessments to ascertain a client’s overall health and physical status. The longer the time since a client has engaged in physical activity, the more important their fitness assessment will be in planning an effective exercise plan. This article looks at five essential elements of any personal trainer’s fitness assessment:
Fitness assessment elements
General Health Assessment
The first assessment carried out as part of a general fitness assessment involves a client’s general health. Before meeting with a personal trainer, a client should speak to their GP and get the ‘all-clear’. If their doctor has any concerns, this should be documented and brought to the attention of the personal trainer.
General health assessments usually include testing vital signs, such as body weight and blood pressure, as well as testing a client’s resting heart rate. Another common addition to a general health assessment is a physical activity readiness questionnaire, which is also called a PAR-Q. In this assessment clients answer questions regarding any medication they take, any injuries they’ve sustained in the past, and the like.
Testing Body Composition
Body composition is concerned with the components that make up a client’s body weight, including muscles, bones and fat. A personal trainer can estimate a client’s body composition using a number of assessments, including:
Body Mass Index (BMI)
This is a generalised calculation where personal trainer’s divide a person’s weight by their height squared. The calculation for determining BMI is: kg/m2
Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)
This body composition test uses electrical currents to determine a client’s physiological make-up. Signals are sent from electrodes through the soles of the feet to the abdomen to estimate body composition.
Still highly effective, though considered somewhat outdated in the fitness industry, are skinfold measurements. Special callipers are used to determine how much body fat is present in a single fold of skin.
Another body composition assessment is girth measurements, the findings of which are used at later stages to assess a client’s progress in terms of fat loss and muscle growth. The most common girth test sites are the waist, hips, thighs, shoulders, chest, calves and neck.
A flexibility assessment can involve a number of tests to determine the range of motion of a client’s joints. This assessment can also determine whether a client has foot instability or postural imbalances. The three most common flexibility tests are:
Shoulder flexibility test
A client is asked to stretch their one hand behind their head and down their spine, while the other hand stretches from below along the spine. The flexibility is determined by measuring the distance between the fingers.
Trunk lift test
A client lies flat on their stomach with their hands at their sides. Using only their back muscles, they must attempt to lift their upper body off of the ground. The flexibility is determined by how high the client can raise themselves.
Here the client sits with their legs outstretched in front of them. They are asked to reach forward and try to touch their toes. The flexibility is determined by measuring the distance between the client’s fingertips and their feet.
An extremely important assessment for all wanting to participate in rigorous exercise of any nature. Cardiovascular endurance tests, also known as stress tests, measure how well a client’s heart and lungs do with supplying oxygen and energy to their body while exercising. Professional cardiovascular tests are performed in laboratories or well-equipped fitness establishments. These include:
12-minute run test
This test is done on a treadmill and has the client running for a total of 12 minutes. Their pre-exercise respiratory and heart rates are then compared to their post-exercise respiratory and heart rates.
Exercise stress test
Performed on a stationary bike or treadmill, this cardiovascular assessment utilises a blood pressure cuff and heart rate monitor to assess the stress placed on a client’s body while exercising.
VO2 max test
This test is also performed on a treadmill or stationary bike, and has the client breathing through a device that measures their maximum rate of oxygen consumption during exercise.
Strength and Endurance
Strength testing measures how much force a client’s muscle groups can exert at one time, while endurance tests measure how long a muscle group can contract and release before fatigue sets in. A common strength and endurance test is the push-up test, where a personal trainer will have a client performing push-up (often to a metronome) until the client fatigues to the point of failure. These tests help a personal trainer establish which muscle groups are strongest, and where the most work is needed.